This is the birth story of Baby L, born at home, unassisted in July 2020 amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Grab yourself a cuppa and get comfortable, this one is epic!
In his Mum's own words...
After a previous “failed” homebirth resulting in a cesarean and experiencing medical abuse in the hospital setting, where things were done without my consent (in fact I was screaming “no, stop”) I was determined this time to have the birth of my dreams.
I spoke to friends about their births and how they felt after various experiences, did some research and decided I was going to go for a home birth again, but this time I had a secret weapon, I was going to have a doula. And a pool. And a toddler under the feet. But most importantly a doula. Enter Becki. Becki is the single most awesome person I’ve ever met! She was recommended to me by a friend who couldn’t sing her praises enough. I thought I’ve gotta meet this person and see if they really are such a sparkling unicorn. So I met Becki. And she IS utterly awesome. A unicorn with a halo and a kick ass sword stashed in her birth bag (well I imagine she does anyways, she has everything else in there and could definitely rock a sword.) anyway...
This time I had a new midwife who was super supportive and really got to know her birthing people well (we'll call her 'S'). She’s the fabulous kind of midwife who if she doesn’t know something she goes away and finds out and isn’t afraid to change her stance on something based on new evidence. Initially she told me at my booking in appointment I wouldn’t be a great candidate for a homebirth because it would be a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I cried, told her I really wanted one and went away. Next day I received a phone call from her to say she’d been looking into it all and if that’s what I really wanted she’d stand by me and help me achieve the birth of my dreams.
In the 12 hours between the appointment and speaking to her I’d done lots of research too and found out all the statistics and felt prepared do battle with her about my rights to make informed decisions about my care. However, her first sentence effectively disarmed me and surprised me; “I’m sorry, during the conversation we had yesterday I didn’t have all the facts we needed to make informed decisions together. I’ve done some research and I now realise that a home VBAC is a very achievable goal.” She’s the first (and only!) medical professional I’ve met that realised they didn’t know something and sought out more information and held her hands up to say so. She is also AWESOME!
Some point along the way I met the consultant... now I didn’t care for him at all! And I certainly didn’t plan on sticking around more than one appointment to listen to his biased opinion: he told me that 3 in 10 VBACs result in scar rupture thus causing death to mother or baby (not true, don’t panic, I think he meant 7/10 chance of achieving a natural birth and manipulated the figures to meet his bias). He said that I MUST give birth in a consultant led ward strapped to a bed. I told him that wasn’t happening. He actually had the nerve to come out with “we have ways of making sure you stay in the bed”. I again repeated no way; that i was going to birth at home and the only reason I’d go to hospital was if a cesarean was required.
Flash forward to my next meeting with midwife S and she started asking me what had happened to have such a change of heart. Clearly confused I asked what she meant. She told me that the consultant had written that after discussing risks with me, that I’d opted for a planned section and he had only gone ahead and booked me in for one! My midwife kindly read it all out to me from the digital notes he’d added to my file and then she firmly added her own to the bottom of it stating that his notes were not reflective of the conversation nor my wishes.
I promptly phoned the hospital and informed them I was firing him. After a few bouts of “you can’t do that” I succeeded in cancelling all future appointment and thought that was it. I was most amused a few months later to receive a letter stating that due to repeatedly cancelling appointments the consultant was now refusing to see me and was releasing me back into GP care. I got my own way I guess in a slightly unexpected way.
Things were looking pretty good!! I liked my doula and my midwife, I’d got rid of the consultant and excitingly I could have a pool this time because we have a different boiler and no longer lived in a top floor flat. Things were going great.
Fast forward to March and Covid struck. Oops. My dreams flew out the window! I was angry and upset. I felt I’d lost control of my birth. Suddenly Becki’s presence and my home birth felt like they were being snatched from under my feet. I sat in the garden angrily digging up bind weed and ivy (an endless battle I’m not winning! They’re even more tenacious buggers than I am) and stropped a lot. In the middle of my stubbornness I said to my toddler “I’m staying here. I’m NOT going to hospital. I’m staying right here.” Being a toddler she looked at me slightly bemusedly and said “ok mama stay here” then wandered off.
Clearly she had no concept of any kind of birth but it got me thinking and researching. Could i? Was it possible? Was it a thing? Could ordinary people do that? Facebook provided me with answers and a name for it. Freebirth! Excitedly I text Becki and asked her opinion on attending a free birth. She didn’t laugh at me or call me crazy! She said absolutely if that’s what I wanted and sent me off to do more research. She told me to join Sam's group* and my little world expanded, this wasn’t just a back up idea. This was something I wanted!
I was excited, I was empowered, I felt strong!
The group modules made me feel prepared and informed, I enjoyed going deeper and deeper into aspects of birth I’d never considered. My birth plan became more “I want this and this” rather than “I don’t want that this time” I watched videos at 3am about placentas. I made my husband (M) research baby CPR. I was so excited!
Even my midwife was on board with the idea, although medically she had to inform me of the risks I could potentially face, she did it in a way that was informative - for example she talked about scar rupture, but gave the evidence about how it is unlikely to happen and the facts of what i could do if it did happen (panic calmly and run carefully to hospital apparently) along with some advice about how to recognise it happening.
All my antenatal sessions with Becki were online which I thought I wouldn’t enjoy, as technology is the bane of my life, but actually they were ace because we could fit them in during my toddlers naps, so they were in smaller chunks. I’m sure they were far more uninterrupted than face to face sessions would have been. Things had come back together in a far better way than they had been even before.
Then just to throw another curve ball, a few weeks before my perfect planned free birth, I found out there was talk of home births being reinstated. I had a week of turmoil of “is it crazy to not want a midwife after all the strops I threw when I first found I couldn’t have one”. Then the date dawned they were reinstated and I was gutted all the way down to my toes. That response made me realise
I didn’t want a home birth, I wanted to free birth.
I deeply and truly wanted to do this my own way. So I did. I informed my lovely midwife, who made sure I had everything I would need, including a homebirth box, just in case I wanted anything out of it to use on the day (we used the scissors in the end, they were crap! Should have stuck with the ones I already had) or if I ended up requiring a midwife (we were very clear that if either me or hubby thought anything was wrong during the birth we would seek help). She told me the date she was on call and jokingly made the pact that if she was on call I’d ring her after the birth so she could meet him and come for a cuppa. We agreed that if it was her I’d consent to her checking us both over at home (bear in mind she only had one date on call within the 6 week window he plausibly would be born in.) other than that we agreed that I’d aim to get him checked at the hospital when I was ready to take him while both knowing realistically i definitely was not planning on it. We talked through the pros and cons of each check and came to the conclusion that actually there was not really any time constraints on them if he was fine at birth.
11.30pm the night she was on call I went into labour. I laughed at the irony that I was hoping for a quick birth but definitely would not be done in time for her to come on that date thinking she finished at midnight! My laughter was short lived as the second contraction hit before I’d finished telling my husband why I was laughing. After that one had passed I started to text her to tell her I was going to miss her deadline, but the 3rd happened before I could finish it. I checked the clock to see how long I’d missed her by and was surprised to see it was only 11.35pm. Oops! 3 in 5 mins. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to text my midwife and Becki between contractions to give her a heads up that things had started so she had warning that she might have to get up slightly early next morning. I rocked forwards and back through each contraction sitting in my beautifully decorated, dedicated birth room with my husband rubbing my back through each one, then standing to go and fill the pool just as the next one would start. He ran back and forth like a puppy on speed. He clicked the switch to inflate the pool and the noise mixed with lights annoyed me that much I took a bag of wine gums from my supply shelf and stropped off. Bad plan. I classily threw up the one I managed to eat in the bathroom, juggling contractions, trying to wee, while also trying to only be sick in the toilet and then my husband popped his head in and oh so helpfully told me while leaning over the toilet bowl “I think your plugs going”. Great! More mess to try and deal with.
Lots of contractions later I’d finally got my shit together enough that I could stand without any more bodily fluids to deal with in the approx 30 seconds I was still getting between contractions and I stamped my way back to my birth room. I could finally get excited! It was almost midnight, the pool was up, although hubby was face down in it trying to inflate the bottom (hilarious!!) I was definitely in labour, it wasn’t overly hurting and my daughter had slept through it. Hubby suggested that I ring Becki but I put it off, there’s no way after being in labour only 20 minutes I was ringing her. My daughter was almost a full day arriving after all!
I realised it was getting owie and I would like to be in the water so I asked hubby if he’d start filling it. He disappeared off to the bathroom to do it. It was just about midnight by now and thankfully unknown to me he had called Becki while in the bathroom faffing with the taps. Turns out he hadn’t done a trial run like he’d said he would and the adapters didn’t fit! He called Becki back to ask what to do and she said she would bring some other adapters and fix it. I was very very mad at him right then so I stropped off downstairs (more bad judgement - reoccurring theme?), I guess to get something but to this day I don’t know what it was as by the time I reached the dining room I was transitioning. Not that I realised that, I thought I still had hours and hours of this to face. I hadn’t even considered ringing Becki.
20 mins later he came to find where I’d gone and walked in on me waving my arms and half jumping up and down saying owie. I told him I wanted it all to stop and he oh so helpfully told me it hurt less upstairs because I wasn’t flapping around. I tried to tell him it wasn’t a choice and I couldn’t help it when I realised my body was trying to push. I told him to take a hike and true to form, clearly stropped off again, for the umpteenth time that evening. This time I headed to the living room where I sat in the dark and quiet on the floor in the right-angle corner of the sofa. It was bliss, the pain stopped the second I started pushing, my body was just gently getting on with it and most importantly I no longer wanted the pool. Just the beautiful quiet darkness. Hubby sat a few feet away, thankfully not saying a word.
At some point Becki must have arrived but the first I knew about it was when she gently said “you’re doing great”. Given I hadn’t heard her arrive it somewhat surprised me! Good job it wasn’t down to me to ring her!!
I asked what time it was for her to be here already and she said it was almost 1am - (this means she had run out the door at high speed like a loony after M rang her, or driven very fast!) I told her I thought it was too soon to push and she told me I was clearly very connected to my body so I should listen to it. I told her I was going to tear the way he was coming and I thought he had listened as just then the pushing paused a few seconds and he started to move back up. Then the pushing happened again and he re-descended in a different angle. I checked if he was as close as he felt and was really really surprised to feel something inside of me. I remember saying it was squishy and wondering if it was actually his bum, not his head, if it was him at all. I figured surely he couldn’t be that close to being born without it hurting and why would his head be squishy anyway. I think i was still in denial this was happening now! My baby wasn’t going to be born in the dark in the front room on a wooden floor, he was going to be born in water with lovely fairy lights and music. But the idea of all that felt repulsive right then so I stayed put assuming I’d feel like wanting those things later when he was “actually” going to be born.
Next thing I knew there was a baby’s head! M or Becki had a torch and were trying to figure out what was going on, while I was trying to figure out how to stop L kicking me with his head out. Those kicks hurt more than anything else that happened that day. Slightly after 1 he exploded into the world with another splash of water and a thud. M tells me he caught him and lowered him to the ground, but I’m skeptical of that...** all I know is I definitely picked him up in a very awkward way through my legs from the floor! If L doesn’t go to Oxbridge we will know why!
Someone moved the towel I was kneeling on, and I snuggled up in a blanket with L.
Becki made the best brew ever, and L latched straight away.
My placenta took its sweet time getting here, and eventually I looked at my phone to see about 10 texts from my favourite midwife. Turns out she was on call until 9 the following morning! Oops!
At this point we figured letting labour ward know he’d arrived was wise, so M called up. “You’ve already had the baby... whaaaat? You can’t do that! Who are you? Which midwife is there? You’re not on our books for tonight, who delivered your baby? I’m sending a midwife ASAP” Marc then uttered the phrase that I can’t decide if made him my hero or was plain cheeky! He calmly said “if you can’t send S don’t send anyone at all, we don’t actually need a midwife!” Clearly the midwife on the phone was not impressed at this and hung up grumbling that our midwife was on her way to another birth and we must have a midwife ASAP. M stood his ground and told them not to bother sending anyone as no one had any worries and we were quite happy on our own.
Then to our surprise they rang back and said our lovely midwife was on her way. Did not see that coming! We got our brew together after all.
She arrived with a shed ton of equipment, which given she’s tiny was quite a sight. Not really sure why she brought it all in as clearly baby was here already and happy.
We had another lovely relaxed cup of tea then she asked about the placenta. In hindsight, I imagine if she hadn’t come and distracted everything with the main light and chaos and it had just been me, M, L, and Becki then it would probably have come sooner, but it did eventually make its appearance without the injection. We ended up cutting the cord after an hour because it had gone cold and was annoying me between my legs. I tied the cord tie on (should probably have washed my hands and him first as it got a bit stained!) and M cut the cord.
When the placenta came I had an interesting lesson about all the parts of it and enjoyed poking and exploring it, my inner geek was very satisfied. Becki packaged it up to take to be used for training and my midwife then asked if she could examine me. Thank goodness for Becki! Hubby held our baby and Becki sat next to me holding my hand through what was a very uncomfortable examination. As a childhood abuse survivor any form of examination like this is hell for me. It turns out that while I’d had no pain until that point the reason the cord was annoying me was I had a bit of an ouchie tear that my midwife wasn’t comfortable stitching at home.
After some to-ing and fro-ing different thoughts about it, I went for a shower to wash the blood from delivering the placenta off and to think. Becki held space for me to figure it out, and I actually left a room without stropping off! Shock horror! While I was in the shower Becki gathered things from the bookcase I’d set up that I might like to take with me. (She’s FAR superior than M at gathering - I had a pair of knickers this time for a start!) Becki came and supported me finishing washing and putting my clothes on. As a fiercely independent person I would have thought this would be a weird experience but actually it was a really comfortable one. I came down feeling refreshed and calm.
I’m not sure what exactly was said to M when I was in the shower but after some resistance and discussion with us all it was agreed I’d go to hospital to have it stitched as it couldn’t be safely done at home and it needed doing. I was all for letting it heal naturally without stitches at home but M was definitely in the get it stitched camp along with everyone else so I did. Turns out he was right. At this point I’m really glad it was my midwife having this discussion with us. Had it not been my midwife I 100% would have said it was a hidden agenda to get me to hospital and dug my heels in but I respect her opinion and know she hadn’t even hinted at going in until she’s seen it so I trust her medical stance about this. Probably a good shout given how slowly it’s healed even stitched.
I thought going to hospital again was my idea of hell and I really dragged my feet. I dressed Luca for the first time, which definitely wasn’t in my birth plan; we were both going to be naked and go to bed! That aside, I have to say his tiny bum looked so cute in his first reusable nappy at a few hours old. It was a tiger one to match his lion cord tie and made me fall in love with cloth.
Once he was dressed and I was dressed we talked about how we would go about going in. After a slight discussion involving a very firm no from all 4 of us adults at home, it was agreed that there would definitely not be an ambulance no matter what labour ward thought! We decided me and Becki would drive in together with baby L and M would be staying home with our toddler. This was definitely the best decision we could have made, as our toddler doesn’t like changes to her routine in the night and a strange person staying with her or waking her to take her else where would definitely fit the bill for a change of routine. Also M does not cope well with people hurting me, even if they’re well meaning, and ideally I wanted to be stitched without anyone accidentally getting punched for causing me pain! (He wouldn’t have... I hope!) Travelling to hospital was surreal, it was so calm and on our terms, the complete opposite of the rushed mad ambulance trip through the snow with my toddler the day she was born.
My midwife met me and Becki there and stayed with us throughout. The injections for the stitches were extremely painful, as all natural numbing had worn off by then, and I’m still surprised we all survived with no one being booted in the face accidentally. I couldn’t have gone through the hospital without Becki by my side. She did what M wouldn’t have been able to do, she made me feel in control still. She snuggled baby L close, making him all calm and cosy, and drew my attention back to him each time I struggled with it. She was solid and reassuring. Everything M was for me through labour she was for me through the stitches, with the added bonus of my little cute squishy snoring in her arms. I saw the power of doulas most in that room, her calming presence preempting what I needed from her. She saw where I was at emotionally throughout it all and met me there, holding space. We had quiet, we had very off topic conversations and we talked about what was going on. A lovely midwife with a good sense of humour came to stitch me, although when she said through her mask “I’m just going to put my first one in” (the stitch) and I heard “I’m just going to put my fist in” I had to be peeled off the ceiling.
I react really badly to a variety of things, gas and air being one of them. I faint with just one suck of it, fun times! Thankfully I'd found this out in the past, so it was a definite no for me. I found I was repeatedly offered it, pressured to have it, and declining it in a circle. Becki somehow managed to powerfully shut this down with one sentence along the lines of she has made her wishes clear, please listen to them. Becki gave me a voice when I was feeling fragile in a vulnerable position. I’m not sure how she so calmly and politely effectively silenced them easily and simply after they hadn’t listened to me repeatedly declining it, but it was bloody impressive! Definitely the person I needed in my corner.
Eventually after what felt like an eternity we were allowed home. There had been some talk about carrying out his NIPE check while we were there as I’d said I wasn’t coming back, but no one was available, and surprisingly it was arranged to be done at home - I guess they figured I was serious about not going back! We had that fabulous labour ward toast at around 7 in the morning then tootled off home.
Becki said goodbye and I climbed into bed beside M (the lucky bugger was asleep) and popped L in his moses basket, the one and only time he’s slept in it and closed my eyes for a blissful 5 minutes before my toddler came padding in and L's first day was begun. She was most unimpressed I’d somehow lost my baby bump in the night and she couldn’t snuggle it that morning, even more miffed to learn her brother was no longer in my tummy, and definitely didn’t believe he was in the moses basket until she finally looked, at which point she realised she’d slept through his birth and missed “Becki coming to visit to tell him he gotta get out now” (FYI this is what doulas do according to 2 year olds - who knew!)
Thank you to Baby L's Mum and Dad for allowing me to share this amazing journey...
* Freebirth And Emergency Childbirth Support Group UK (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/groups/freebirthemergencychildbirth/
** Just wanted to add that baby L definitely DID NOT land on the floor but was very expertly caught by his Daddy and put gently on the towel on the floor ready for Mum to pick him up!